Understanding and preventing cardiovascular disease in Australia

Few families in Australia are untouched by cardiovascular disease. It is a leading cause of death and disability; in Australia, someone has a heart attack or stroke every 5 minutes and one person dies of these conditions every 12 minutes.

A large proportion of heart attacks and strokes are preventable, through population health measures like smoking cessation and through treatment of those at high risk with medications including those to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Identifying people at risk requires putting together data on a wide range of risk factors to work out someone’s probability of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. This is called their “absolute risk” of cardiovascular disease and these checks are recommended for people aged 45 and over in the general population and for those aged 35 and over who are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. 

Led by Professor Emily Banks, researchers at NCEPH, the Heart Foundation and the Australian Bureau of Statistics looked at a representative sample of Australians and analysed detailed data on their age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes status, kidney functioning and balance of good and bad cholesterol. The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia on 2nd May 2016, found that around 20% of Australians aged 45-74 are at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years. This is 1.4 million people.

Along with this high level of risk, what was more concerning was that the majority of these people, around 1 million people, are not receiving currently recommended blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering therapy. These medications can more than halve a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke, so what we are seeing is a massive missed opportunity.

Australia is a world leader in preventing heart disease, but these findings show how far we have to go. If everyone was receiving optimal therapy we could prevent tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes and heart attacks, and we would actually save money and reduce inappropriate treatment.

So the take home message is that people aged 45 and over should see their doctor for a heart check and be fully assessed for cardiovascular disease. For those who are found to be at risk, lifestyle modification and medication are important options and if medications have been recommended for you then it is important to take them long term, as advised by your health professional.

Links:

Link to MJA article

Link to ANU media release and video news release

Link to ABC and SBS stories

Updated:  21 September 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  Webmaster